Election 2024

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Indy Elections: And then there were two

Plus: It’s starting to look like campaign rally season
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
Sean Golonka
Sean Golonka
Indy Elections

Indy Elections is The Nevada Independent’s newsletter devoted to comprehensive and accessible coverage of the 2024 elections, from the race for the White House to the bid to take control of the Legislature.

In today’s edition: The GOP presidential primary race is down to just two people: Donald Trump and Nikki Haley. So what does that mean for Nevada, where they aren’t even on the same ballot? Plus, the looming early vote period proves that candidates and surrogates actually *can* remember Nevada is on the primary calendar, despite what New Hampshire and South Carolina might have you believe.

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We want to hear from you! Send us your questions, comments, observations, jokes or what you think we should be covering or paying attention to. Email Jacob Solis, your humble newsletter editor, at [email protected].

Days until: 

  • Presidential primary early voting begins: 4
  • Presidential primary: 14
  • GOP presidential caucus: 16
  • Election Day: 287

The GOP presidential field has all but imploded. So what comes next for Nevada’s caucus? 

By Jacob Solis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis scuttled his presidential bid Sunday. He did it just six days after losing the Iowa caucus — a contest in which he outspent former President Donald Trump nearly two-to-one — by nearly 30 points. 

His exit — 18 days from the Nevada Republican caucus — now leaves just two names on that caucus ballot: Trump and long-shot Texas pastor Ryan Binkley. In what has long been viewed as a contest winnable only by Trump, the caucus is now little more than a delegate rubber stamp.

Binkley, by Iowa comparison, received just 0.7 percent of the vote. In a statement, Binkley told The Indy that his momentum was growing — he touted “receiving four times more votes than Asa Hutchinson” in Iowa — and still saw Nevada as a chance to win delegates for the national convention.

But by consequence, DeSantis’ campaign collapse could further crater expected turnout, beyond low levels already expected for a caucus process famed for being obtuse for rank-and-file voters. 

“Why bother?” Amy Tarkanian, a former state GOP party chair, told The Nevada Independent. “Who are you going to debate for?” 

Still, the caucus is set to continue with only Trump and Binkley. State party Chair Michael McDonald said in a phone interview that he still felt “pretty good” about expected turnout, even with a whittled-down field (though he did not provide precise estimates). More than that, he said the caucus would go forward “no matter what.”

“Even if everyone drops out, we’re already paid for, already moving forward,” McDonald said. 

Trump’s lone remaining major opponent, Nikki Haley, is running on the state’s primary ballot. It is a primary that will award no delegates and, held two full days before the caucus, will not pit the former U.N. ambassador against Trump. 

Haley’s strategy is intentional. Asked about the decision to snub the party-run Nevada caucus, she told reporters in New Hampshire that “we’re going to focus on the states that are fair.”

Add that to the list of long-running intra-party gripes about the party-run caucus. 

For weeks (months?) we have toyed with the once-unthinkable notion that Nevada no longer mattered to either presidential nominating contest. That has borne out in the data: an analysis from political ad tracking firm AdImpact, for instance, showed $1 million in total Nevada GOP spending compared to $75.6 million in New Hampshire. 

If a caucus falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it — does it even make a sound?

What is left is a race between two candidates, both running as incumbents, now coming to Nevada in a dress rehearsal for November. Trump, to his base, as the president who never left. Biden, to disaffected moderates and disgruntled Democrats, as the one man who can beat Trump. 

By Saturday, the general election hypothetical will be on full display. Vice President Kamala Harris will open early voting festivities in East Las Vegas, just as Trump is set to rally at an East Las Vegas baseball park, both ostensibly rallies for a pair of primary elections with neither suspense nor stakes — so long as we’re not yet counting six electoral votes. 

Reporter Gabby Birenbaum contributed to this story from Washington, D.C.

Dondero Loop NOT running for open commission seat, Bilbray-Axelrod ‘considering’

By Tabitha Mueller

After Democratic Clark County Commissioner Ross Miller announced he would not seek re-election to his District C seat in 2024, rumors have been circulating about who would run in his place, among them, Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas), Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod (D-Las Vegas) and Democratic County District Attorney Steve Wolfson.

In a phone call, Bilbray-Axelrod would only say she is “seriously considering” running for the open seat. In a written response, Dondero Loop told The Nevada Independent that, though she’s received plenty of calls pushing for a commission bid, she intends to stay in the state Senate where “there is more work to do” to improve education.

Wolfson could not be reached for comment.

Dondero Loop, who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, is in her second term in the state Senate and is not up for re-election this cycle. She previously served for three terms in the Assembly. 

Bilbray-Axelrod is in her fourth term in the Assembly and her seat is up for election in 2024.

In the 2020 election, Miller defeated Republican Stavros Anthony by 10 votes, winning the seat, which represents the northwestern neighborhoods of the Las Vegas Valley. A recount sought by Anthony, who is now lieutenant governor, widened Miller’s margin to 30 votes. 

About 31 percent of voters in the district are registered as Democrats, 29 percent are registered as Republicans and 32 percent are registered as nonpartisan.

Check out the full list of announcements in the legislative races here.

So what’s a Senate candidate to do when an unpopular president comes to town?

By Sean Golonka

Trump and Harris are arriving Saturday. Biden visited just last month. As the presidential race crystallizes, the candidates running in the other race at the top of the ticket must ponder how they will treat these unpopular likely nominees?

Reporter Gabby Birenbaum and I took a trip down memory lane this past weekend to explore that question and whether Trump and Biden could prove to be a drag on their party’s Senate contenders.

For Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), her path likely involves staying the course — making an occasional appearance alongside Biden or Harris, while focusing mostly on Nevada and her own record of bipartisanship in Congress. For whichever Republican candidate emerges from the primary, the path is engulfed by Trump. Either embrace him, as front-runner Sam Brown and other primary candidates have, or reject him, and earn the wrath of the former president and his highly motivated base.

Here’s an abridged look at the recent history of this relationship:

2022: While Biden avoids the Silver State, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) pulls out a razor-thin win over Republican former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who campaigned alongside Trump multiple times.

2018: Then-Rep. Rosen defeats incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who pivoted to fully embracing Trump after opposing him “99 percent” in Trump’s first electoral run in 2016.

2016: Cortez Masto wins her first term, while making campaign appearances alongside Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (she won Nevada that year). She defeated then-Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), who publicly withdrew support from Trump just weeks before the election following the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape that featured Trump speaking in vulgar language about women.

2012: Heller wins a first full term over embattled Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) by avoiding an unpopular Mitt Romney whose poll numbers sank after the publicization of his infamous “47 percent” comments.

2010: Obama makes several visits to Nevada to boost Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on his road to re-election over tea party darling Sharron Angle.

Read the rest of the story to revel in the history and pick up on some potential lessons for 2024.

What we’re reading and writing

Nevada Senate GOP hopefuls attack Brown, pan Rosen land bill by Gabby Birenbaum

We now live in the future, where all debates include everyone but the person in front. 

Lombardo to caucus for Trump, vote “none of the above” in state-run primary by Tabitha Mueller

Lombardo: “My belief [is] you're innocent until proven guilty.”

Lawmakers mum on $310,000 in donations from teachers union amid contract dispute by Rocio Hernandez, Jacob Solis and Sean Golonka

New campaign finance filings give us the full picture. 

Republican former Treasurer Dan Schwartz to challenge Susie Lee in District 3 by Gabby Birenbaum and Sean Golonka

Everyone loves a self-funder. 

On the Trail

Hijacking the middle of the newsletter (from myself) to let everyone know that our elections podcast On the Trail is LIVE. In our first episode, “The Iowa in the Room,” we dive into whether Nevada matters anymore and why vanilla ice cream rocks, actually. 

Listen, subscribe, thrive (and special thank you to the one person who gave us five stars immediately, we see you). Find us on Apple Podcasts, YouTube or wherever you listen to podcasts. 

New episodes every Thursday afternoon. 

The Lightning Round

🎩 Newsom and Sisolak don their Biden surrogate hats — Just before a visit from the veep, East Las Vegas will get a combo-visit from California Gov. Gavin Newsom and ex-Gov. Steve Sisolak as the pair hand out Biden/Harris early vote yard signs. There is something to be made of the concentrated campaign attention for East Las Vegas, where a majority of residents are Latino. 

🖋️ RFK Jr. goes West — In his campaign quest to secure enough signatures to get on Nevada’s general election ballot, independent hopeful and ex-Democratic challenger Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is making the trek to Las Vegas on Feb. 4 — just two days before the primary. 

🧃 Gunter wins straw poll — In #nvsen news, former Trump-era Iceland Ambassador Jeff Gunter won 60 percent of a straw poll of the Sun City Conservative Club in Las Vegas — 50 votes to just 19 for presumed GOP front-runner Sam Brown. This may be a good time to remember Brown winning three straw polls of his own in 2022 before losing to eventual nominee Adam Laxalt 56-34 in that year’s primary.

🏛️ Reno Ward 1 race sees three candidates — Reno activist and Planned Parenthood community engagement manager Lily Baran announced last week that she is running for Reno City Council’s Ward 1 seat. That and more in our local government candidate tracker here.

Jacob Solis and Tabitha Mueller

And to ease you into the week, a few “posts” to “X” that caught our eye: 

  • Ummm, I was told Las Vegas was a dry heat???
  • Something poetic about the duality of playing in *checks notes* Utah before coming to Las Vegas. 
  • Lions are the team of destiny confirmed

We’ll see you next week. 

Interested in more newsletters from The Nevada IndependentFind them all here.


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